Briefly Noted: Updated Documentary List

While classes are already underway for some folks, like Bridget, classes start again for me on Monday.  So, I wanted to briefly note that I’ve updated our “videos” page and added some new documentaries to the list.

The list includes documentaries that are useful for teaching and learning about race and racism.  Looking over the list, it seems heavily skewed toward a black-white dichotomy.  I’d love to include more films about race and racism beyond this false dichotomy.  I’m particularly interested in documentaries about Asians and Asian Americans, Latinos, and the experiences of biracial and multi-racial folks that explicitly deal with issues of race and racism.  If you’ve created such a film, or just know of one, you’d like to suggest, please drop me a note.  Also, if you’ve bookmarked this page someplace, please update it as I’ve changed the URL.

Teaching & Learning with Racism Review

This is the week that a lot of people are returning to school after the break, or at least thinking about the return to classes.  And, many people, like Pitseleh at Backstage, are planning of courses for the coming semester.   So, I thought it might be a good time to address the ways you can use Racism Review in the classroom.night school

Part of the reason Joe and I started this blog was to provide resources for those who typically stand in front of the classroom, as well as provide an ongoing place for discussion for all of us who sit in those rows and rows of chairs (Creative Commons License photo credit: brandongreerwith apologies to all you Freirians who are putting your chairs in a circle, the ones at my institution are bolted to the floor like the ones in this image).   We’ve added a pages here with a few syllabi from other instructors (feel free to send me others and I’ll add them to the collection).   We’ve also got a good list of topic-relevant documentaries from a variety of filmmakers that you may find useful in designing your courses.   Or, if you’re taking a course, these will point you in the direction of books and films that could help you learn more.   In addition to these rather unidirectional resources, the interactive quality of the blog can be useful for learning about race and racism.

I’ve made use of this blog in my classes, and it can work quite well.   Here are some suggestions for ways to use Racism Review in the classroom:

  1. Assign it as supplemental reading requirement. This is good choice if you have a few students who are very interested in the topic and want explorations beyond the classroom.  As with any supplmental reading, this is difficult (if not impossible) to evaluate, so I don’t usually include this in the grading scheme.
  2. Make it a required reading assignment. As a required reading assignment, you can then have students write a reaction paper to what they read in a post (either whatever’s currently on top of the blog, or you as the instructor can pre-select one and assign it). You can also have students read the blog and come to class prepared to discuss what they’ve read (my experience is that the discussion is more lively if they’ve written about it first, but your mileage may vary, as they say).  Again, the reading is difficult to evaluate on its own, so the grading scheme here would be to evaluate the reaction papers or the classroom discussion.
  3. Offer students the option of extra credit points for comments. This is what I’ve done most often, and it seems to work well with undergraduates who are highly motivated by extra credit points.   Typically, what I offer is one point of extra credit (added to the cumulate course average) with a maximum of five to ten points, depending on the class.   I require the students to print out all the comments they made and hand them in on the last day of class.
  4. Volunteer to Guest-Blog about a topic that you’re covering in the class and have students comment. It’s often the case that we have so much more that we want to share with our students than the boundedness of the physical classroom will allow, and the blog is a good way to push beyond those walls.  I found this especially useful when I was teaching a class about Hurricane Katrina and there was just so much more I wanted to share with the class than I could in the allotted time.   So I addressed those issues in the form of blog posts, and then assigned them as required reading.  If you’re teaching about race/ethnicity and find that there’s a particular topic you’d like to explore in more depth, consider being a Guest-Blogger for Racism Review and writing a post on the topic.   (Email me for details if you’re interested: jessiedanielsnyc _at_ gmail _dot_ com).
  5. Create writing assignments for students that follow a blog post format. This is a more advanced sort of assignment and I’ve done this with upper-division undergraduates and graduate students.  Depending on what your other pedagogical goals are in the course, you might want to think about including writing assignments that require students to write in the form of a blog post.   If they’re good, and they’re about racism, we’d be happy to include them here as guest-bloggers.   The format we usually follow is fairly simple:  500-1,500 words on a current news item related to race/racism with some analysis that includes relevant social science research.  The tone is professional, but relaxed.   In one graduate course I taught, the blog writing was 30% of the overall grade and I evaluated it based on both form and content.   This can be an excellent assignment for more highly skilled students, and especially students who are familiar with blogs and used to the format.   The possibility of getting their post on a well-read blog can be a real incentive for hard work in the classroom.
  6. Something fabulous you design. Of course, I’m sure there are lots of other ways you could have (or already have) used this blog in your classes.  Let us know what you’re doing and how you’ve used the blog in the classroom.

Happy pedagogy! 🙂

Documentaries About Race & Racism (*Programming Alert)

Back in April, Joe wrote about the major new book, Inheriting the Trade by Thomas Norman DeWolf, about a slave-trading family of “The Deep North.” Tonight, the related documentary, “Traces of the Trade,” by Katrina Browne airs on PBS (check your local listings). And, while I’m not great at predicting future trends, I think we will increasingly see non-fiction books combined with documentary films geared for (near) simultaneous release. Mark my words, this is a trend in search of a name, and it has implications for those of us in the classroom as well.


And, I stumbled upon another documentary called “Resolved,” (currently available on HBO in demand). It’s a documentary about high school debaters, predominantly white, and one debate team from a predominantly black school. It’s deeply engrossing – and not just because I did speech and debate in high school. I was unexpectedly blown away by this film, especially the Freire-ian-turn it takes. I highly recommend this film.


Finally, a brief thanks to Melissa F. Weiner, Assistant Professor at Quinnipiac University, for her suggestions for additional video titles. I’ve updated the video page with her suggestions.


Addendum from Joe: I just finished reading the very personal book by Tom DeWolf, Inheriting the Trade, and it is indeed dynamite. You learn not only about the central role of New Englanders in the slave trade, but also about the way in which some members of a large and extended white family learned about their heavy slavery history and tried to come to grips with it, including travels to slave regions of the US and to Africa. I highly recommend the book to you and for class use from high school to graduate school. It will likely change, a little or a lot, all who read it seriously.

Programming Alert: “Unnatural Causes”

We could improve overall health if we would address economic and racial inequality. That is the message of new documentary, “Unnatural Causes,” directed by Larry Adelman, and airing beginning tonight on PBS stations throughout the U.S. This short post is just a programming alert for those interested in viewing, recording or teaching about the series. I’ll be back after it airs with a post or two about individual episodes. You can check your local listings here.

“Leave or Die”

Elliott Jaspin’s reporting on the “leave or die” imperatives issued by whites to blacks throughout the U.S. and continuing for 60 years is part of the systemic racism we talk about so often here. Sherilyn Ifill of Blackprof.com has a good post on Marcos Williams’ new documentary about this, “Banished: American Ethnic Cleansings.” Ifill is one of the featured experts in the film and her post is no case of shameless self-promotion on her part. This is an important documentary that addresses the some of the most reprehensible acts of white racism and the way these acts continue to reverberate in very material ways in people’s everyday lives. Here’s the trailer via YouTube:





Williams’ film charts the history, and contemporary descendants of, whites who violently expelled blacks from dozens of towns and counties throughout the U.S. For the classroom, the film would make an excellent companion to Loewen’s Sundown Towns. “Banished” is currently airing on PBS, you can check local listings here.

“Do you consider yourself militant?”

So, it’s like this.  I often work at home and while I blog, or grade online student papers, or answer email, I also watch a documentary.   Love me some multi-media-multi-tasking.  This morning while I graded student assignments, I also watched “Malcolm X: Make It Plain” (1994) which just re-aired on PBS’ American Experience.   It’s excellent and I highly recommend it.

What Malcolm had to say then resonates today, and it is both powerful and poignant to see the footage of him. Perhaps most moving are the scenes that capture his sense of humor, and the filmmakers, Orlando Bagwell and Steve Fayer, deftly use this to frame the piece. They use a clip at both the beginning and the end of a white reporter aggressively asking, “Do you consider yourself ‘militant’?” To which Malcolm replies, with sly grin, “No, I consider myself Malcolm.”

Lots of resources at the PBS site, and as they say, check your local listings.

Herbert in NYTimes: Racism Still With Us

Bob Herbert has an excellent Op-Ed in today’s New York Times. His focus is on South Carolina.  And given that I’m teaching a visual media course in which we’re discussing the use of non-fiction films to address issues of racial injustice, I was particularly struck by Herbert’s mention of the documentary, “Corridor of Shame,” about racial disparities in the South Carolina educational system.   I’ll have to add that one to my list of films to see.

In reviewing the historical context of racism in South Carolina, Herbert makes reference to Benjamin Tillman, aka “Pitchfork Ben,” who served as both a governor and senator there. Herbert writes:

“A statue of Tillman …. is on prominent display outside the statehouse. … A mortal enemy of black people, he bragged that he and his followers had disenfranchised “as many as we could,” and he publicly defended the murder of blacks.

In a speech on the Senate floor, he declared:

‘We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.’

Real change is more than problematic in a state so warped by its past that it can continue to officially admire a figure like Tillman.”

Much of the MLK-holiday-themed rhetoric would have us believe that we’re past “that kind” of racism, but when monuments to Tillman still stand and when white supremacists still march (even when outnumbered), it seems to me that this type of racism is part of the fabric of this society, rather than a regional or historical aberration.

Documentary Film & Video for Teaching and Learning about Racism

I’ve been writing and thinking about the potential of digital video at places like YouTube for subverting dominant, controlling images over at my personal blog, Thinking at the Interface. I also use a lot of documentary films and videos in my teaching. I’ve been experimenting with how to include digital video here at Racism Review. Originally, I’d wanted to include a separate video blog here, but the blogging software won’t allow me to do that (and I don’t have the coding chops to hack the software and bend it to my will). So, I’m just going to do what everyone else does, and periodically include a digital video here (via YouTube) as I run across them. And, on the additional page called “Videos” linked above, I’ll keep a list of documentary films and videos that are useful for teaching and learning about racism. I’ve got a few up there now as a preliminary list. If you’ve got a title, please drop a comment here and I’ll add it to the list.